#NYFF56 Critics Academy and Film Reviews

In addition to being invited to cover TIFF this year, I was also lucky enough to be accepted into the NYFF Critics Academy for 2018. After a brief flight from Toronto to New York, I spent 3 weeks in the city watching movies and immersing myself in film with the critics class of 2018. It was a fascinating experience to get to chat with industry insiders about their experiences, their work and get advice about how to forge my own path. It was a much different experience to TIFF, but it was still instructive, and I really appreciated getting to talk about film with other people who take film seriously. It’s a rare treat for me, and being part of the critical establishment was a dream come true. Admittedly I wasn’t able to see as many films as I would have liked because I missed the first week of press screenings, but my thoughts on the ones I did see are below.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: I missed this film at TIFF because I was ill, and I was grateful to be able to see it in New York, which in many ways felt like the more appropriate choice. Based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of a young woman’s struggle to exonerate her lover of a crime he didn’t commit, and the struggles they face as they move through the justice system as black people. While the outcome is sad and unfortunately realistic, what struck me most about the film is the way light and gaze are used to communicate love. Jenkins’ last film had a starkly different colour palette but also managed to use light and gaze to convey the transformative power of love. It was refreshing to see black love depicted in such warm tones full of longing and earnest longing.

A FAITHFUL MAN: A French film that I saw on a whim, I was never truly able to get into the narrative because the characters felt so unreal to me. Protagonist Abel reads as flighty and silly in the same way women are often depicted, and his motivations rarely seem to make sense. He spends the film waffling back and forth between two women, unsure of his own desires which made for a very unsatisfactory conclusion. Lily Rose Depp did give quite a solid performance in the role of Eve and demonstrated that she has acting chops of her own, playing up her doe-eyed, innocent good looks to draw viewers to her side.

THE FAVOURITE: Easily the best film I saw at the festival, The Favourite is a hilarious, biting and droll period film that plays on the way women navigate power. Tonally similar to Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster the movie treats its 3 female leads as devious witches manipulating each other to their own ends, each with separate motivations. The performances are fantastic, with Rachel Weisz as a clear standout. The story touches on power, corruption, sexual abuse, queer romance and the waning vestiges of masculinity in a fun romp that is sure to entertain. There are certainly many nominations in its future. My review of the film ran in IndieWire as part of the Critics Academy program.

PRIVATE LIFE: I would follow Kathryn Hahn to the ends of the earth, and I’m glad I followed her here. The story deals with the main couple’s struggle to have children and the difficulties they face financially and emotionally trying to make that happen. Hahn and Paul Giamatti aren’t a couple I would have thought worked well together, but they sell the quiet desperation and resentment of putting their bodies and relationship through the continued stress of attempting conception. After their wayward niece offers to donate an egg to their efforts, the strange arrangement brings the couple’s issues to the surface and force them to deal with the reasons they waited so long to have kids in the first place. I enjoyed this film immensely, but it largely made me sad that the drive to have children is so all consuming that it often destroys relationships.

HIGH LIFE: Claire Denis’ first feature in English was controversial at TIFF but I didn’t quite see the reason for the extreme reactions. Set aboard a spaceship in which prisoners have been promised a shorter sentence in exchange for being experimental subjects, the movie recounts the events that lead to Robert Pattinson living alone with his young toddler. Extensive flashbacks explain the narrative and examine the question of the humanity of prisoners, the futility of mankind’s survival and the pursuit of scientific innovation. There are many slightly disturbing scenes including multiple attempted and completed rapes, but they serve the story in a way many often don’t. It’s not a film I’d watch again, but I think it’s a curious experiment that mostly works.

ASAKO I & II: A strange but hilarious film, Asako deals in magical realism to create an absurdist narrative that is as entertaining as it is strange. After her boyfriend abandons her and never returns, Asako meets and falls in love with another man who bears her ex’s face, only for her ex to turn up again after 2 years ready to win her back. The premise borders on nonsensical, but demonstrates the ways in which people shift through time as their needs and wants change with them. It is an enjoyable film that treats its titular character seriously and regards her hesitation as genuine curiosity about what her life might have been like if she’d made different choices.

HAPPY AS LAZZARO: A time shifting film about a man out of context, this beautiful piece uses its titular character to illustrate a town out of time, held in the past by the crimes of a capitalist thief. My biggest complaint is that even after the second act twist, the protagonist remains a cipher and we never get much sense of who he is as a character outside the machinations of the people around him.